9. Annotations

An annotation is a string that you can place directly before the declaration of a QL entity or name. For example, to declare a module M as private, you could use:

private module M {
Note that some annotations act on an entity itself, whilst others act on a particular name for the entity:
  • Act on an entity: abstract, cached, external, final, pragma, language, and bindingset
  • Act on a name: deprecated, library, private, and query

For example, if you annotate an entity with private, then only that particular name is private. You could still access that entity under a different name (using an alias). On the other hand, if you annotate an entity with cached, then the entity itself is cached.

Here is an explicit example:

module M {
  private int foo() { result = 1 }
  predicate bar = foo/0;

In this case, the query select M::foo() gives a compiler error, since the name foo is private. The query select M::bar() is valid (giving the result 1), since the name bar is visible and it is an alias of the predicate foo.

You could apply cached to foo, but not bar, since foo is the declaration of the entity.

9.1. Overview of annotations

This section describes what the different annotations do, and when you can use them. You can also find a summary table in the Annotations section of the QL language specification.

9.1.1. abstract

Available for: classes, member predicates

The abstract annotation is used to define an abstract entity.

For information about abstract classes, see Classes.

Abstract predicates are member predicates that have no body. They can be defined on any class, and should be overridden in non-abstract subtypes.

Here is an example that uses abstract predicates. A common pattern when writing data flow analysis in QL is to define a configuration class. Such a configuration must describe, among other things, the sources of data that it tracks. A supertype of all such configurations might look like this:

abstract class Configuration extends string {
  /** Holds if `source` is a relevant data flow source. */
  abstract predicate isSource(Node source);

You could then define subtypes of Configuration, which inherit the predicate isSource, to describe specific configurations. Any non-abstract subtypes must override it (directly or indirectly) to describe what sources of data they each track.

In other words, all non-abstract classes that extend Configuration must override isSource in their own body, or they must inherit from another class that overrides isSource:

class ConfigA extends Configuration {
  // provides a concrete definition of `isSource`
  override predicate isSource(Node source) { ... }
class ConfigB extends ConfigA {
  // doesn't need to override `isSource`, because it inherits it from ConfigA

9.1.2. cached

Available for: classes, algebraic datatypes, characteristic predicates, member predicates, non-member predicates, modules

The cached annotation indicates that an entity should be evaluated in its entirety and stored in the evaluation cache. All later references to this entity will use the already-computed data. This affects references from other queries, as well as from the current query.

For example, it can be helpful to cache a predicate that takes a long time to evaluate, and is reused in many places.

You should use cached carefully, since it may have unintended consequences. For example, cached predicates may use up a lot of storage space, and may prevent the QL compiler from optimizing a predicate based on the context at each place it is used. However, this may be a reasonable tradeoff for only having to compute the predicate once.

If you annotate a class or module with cached, then all non-private entities in its body must also be annotated with cached, otherwise a compiler error is reported.

9.1.3. deprecated

Available for: classes, algebraic datatypes, member predicates, non-member predicates, fields, modules, aliases

The deprecated annotation is applied to names that are outdated and scheduled for removal in a future release of QL. If any of your QL files use deprecated names, you should consider rewriting them to use newer alternatives. Typically, deprecated names have a QLDoc comment that tells users which updated element they should use instead.

For example, the name DataFlowNode is deprecated and has the following QLDoc comment:

 * DEPRECATED: Use `DataFlow::Node` instead.
 * An expression or function/class declaration,
 * viewed as a node in a data flow graph.
deprecated class DataFlowNode extends @dataflownode {

This QLDoc comment appears when you use the name DataFlowNode in a QL editor.

9.1.4. external

Available for: member predicates, non-member predicates

The external annotation is used on predicates, to define an external “template” predicate. This is similar to a database predicate.

9.1.5. final

Available for: classes, member predicates, fields

The final annotation is applied to entities that can’t be overridden or extended. In other words, a final class can’t act as a base type for any other types, and a final predicate or field can’t be overridden in a subclass.

This is useful if you don’t want subclasses to change the meaning of a particular entity.

For example, the predicate hasName(string name) holds if an element has the name name. It uses the predicate getName() to check this, and it wouldn’t make sense for a subclass to change this definition. In this case, hasName should be final:

class Element ... {
  string getName() { result = ... }
  final predicate hasName(string name) { name = this.getName() }

9.1.6. library

Available for: classes, non-member predicates


This annotation is deprecated. Instead of annotating a name with library, put it in a private (or privately imported) module.

The library annotation is applied to names that you can only refer to from within a .qll file. If you try to refer to that name from a file that does not have the .qll extension, then the QL compiler returns an error.

9.1.7. override

Available for: member predicates, fields

The override annotation is used to indicate that a definition overrides a member predicate or field from a base type.

If you override a predicate or field without annotating it, then the QL compiler gives a warning.

9.1.8. private

Available for: classes, algebraic datatypes, member predicates, non-member predicates, imports, fields, modules, aliases

The private annotation is used to prevent names from being exported.

If a name has the annotation private, or if it is accessed through an import statement annotated with private, then you can only refer to that name from within the current module’s namespace.

9.1.9. query

Available for: non-member predicates, aliases

The query annotation is used to turn a predicate (or a predicate alias) into a query. This means that it is part of the output of the QL program.

9.1.10. Compiler pragmas

Available for: characteristic predicates, member predicates, non-member predicates

The following compiler pragmas affect the compilation and optimization of QL queries. You should avoid using these annotations unless you experience significant performance issues.

Before adding pragmas to your code, contact Semmle to describe the performance problems. That way we can suggest the best solution for your problem, and take it into account when improving the QL optimizer.


The pragma[noinline] annotation is used to prevent a predicate from being inlined into the place where it is called.

For simple predicates, the QL optimizer sometimes replaces a call to a predicate with the predicate body itself. This is known as inlining. For example, suppose you have a definition predicate one(int i) { i = 1 } and a call to that predicate ... one(y) .... The QL optimizer may inline the predicate to ... y = 1 .... To prevent this, annotate the predicate one with pragma[noinline]:

predicate one(int i) { i = 1 }

In practice, this annotation is useful when you’ve already grouped certain variables together in a “helper” predicate, to ensure that the relation is evaluated in one piece. This can help to improve performance. The QL optimizer’s inlining may undo the work of the helper predicate, so it’s a good idea to annotate it with pragma[noinline].


The pragma[nomagic] annotation is used to prevent the QL optimizer from performing the “magic sets” optimization on a predicate.

This kind of optimization involves taking information from the context of a predicate call and pushing it into the body of a predicate. This is usually beneficial, so you shouldn’t use the pragma[nomagic] annotation unless recommended to do so by Semmle.

Note that nomagic implies noinline.


The pragma[noopt] annotation is used to prevent the QL optimizer from optimizing a predicate, except when it’s absolutely necessary for compilation and evaluation to work.

This is rarely necessary and you should not use the pragma[noopt] annotation unless recommended to do so by Semmle, for example, to help resolve performance issues.

When you use this annotation, be aware of the following issues:

  1. The QL optimizer automatically orders the conjuncts of a complex formula in an efficient way. In a noopt predicate, the conjuncts are evaluated in exactly the order that you write them.

  2. The QL optimizer automatically creates intermediary conjuncts to “translate” certain formulas into a conjunction of simpler formulas. In a noopt predicate, you must write these conjunctions explicitly. In particular, you can’t chain predicate calls or call predicates on a cast. You must write them as multiple conjuncts and explicitly order them.

    For example, suppose you have the following definitions:

    class Small extends int {
      Small() { this in [1 .. 10] }
      Small getSucc() { result = this + 1}
    predicate p(int i) {
      i.(Small).getSucc() = 2
    predicate q(Small s) {
      s.getSucc().getSucc() = 3

    If you add noopt pragmas, you must rewrite the predicates. For example:

    predicate p(int i) {
      exists(Small s | s = i and s.getSucc() = 2)
    predicate q(Small s) {
      exists(Small succ |
        succ = s.getSucc() and
        succ.getSucc() = 3

9.1.11. Language pragmas

Available for: classes, characteristic predicates, member predicates, non-member predicates


This annotation allows you to use monotonic aggregates instead of the standard QL aggregates.

For more information, see Monotonic aggregates.

9.1.12. Binding sets

Available for: characteristic predicates, member predicates, non-member predicates


You can use this annotation to explicitly state the binding sets for a predicate. A binding set is a subset of the predicate’s arguments such that, if those arguments are constrained to a finite set of values, then the predicate itself is finite (that is, it evaluates to a finite set of tuples).

The bindingset annotation takes a comma-separated list of variables. Each variable must be an argument of the predicate, possibly including this (for characteristic predicates and member predicates) and result (for predicates that return a result).

See Binding behavior in the Predicates topic for examples and more information.